Marja-Leena Rathje
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rare Lascaux photos


Rare, Unpublished: Lascaux Steer Photo: Ralph Morse/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images Jan 01,1947

This is exciting, if you love ancient cave paintings as much as a I do. has a gallery of previously unpublished rare photos, the first ever taken inside the Lascaux Caves of France. The caves were discovered by accident on September 12, 1940 by two schoolboys but it wasn't until 1947 that...

LIFE's Ralph Morse went to Lascaux, and became the first photographer to ever document the astonishing, vibrant paintings. Here, on the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the cave and its treasures, in a gallery featuring rare and never-published photographs, Morse -- still vibrant himself at 93 -- shares with his memories of what it was like to encounter the long-hidden, strikingly lifelike handiwork of a vanished people: the Cro-Magnon.

"In [Cro-Magnon man's] most expert period," LIFE noted in its issue of Feb. 24, 1947 (in which a handful of Morse's photos appeared), "his apparatus included engraving and scraping tools, a stone or bone palette and probably brushes made of bundled split reeds. He ground colored earth for his rich reds and yellows, used charred bone or soot black for his dark shading and made green from manganese oxide. These colors were mixed with fatty oils. For permanence, the finest pigments of civilized Europe have never rivaled these crude materials."

It's a fascinating story with great photos that, to me, inspire awe and admiration for the skills and artistry of these early humans of 17,000 years ago.

Many thanks to ionarts for this link!

If you are interested in earlier posts on this blog about Lascaux Caves, please check here.

Marja-Leena | 13/09/2010 | 19 comments
themes: History, Photography, Rock Art & Archaeology


These ARE rare photos. Infuriatingly, Life demanded me to allow the use of my net stuff before I was able to take one picture and the article to my FB account.

Gone are the days, when Life was a magazine what one can buy on the Railwaystation magazine stand to reed. I loved that magazine. My brother-in-law published once a picture in Life.The subject was a close-up of Jimmy Hoffa, you remember? The AFL-CIO-man that disappeared?

Well, I'm going to have another go and, as far as I know, I have filled in all the relevant slots above. I haven't seen the Lascaux caves (in fact I believe they have been closed to the public for some time.) However I did see those at Perigord and although my French wasn't very good in those days I did detect the adjective barbare when the guide referred to the graffiti on the walls underneath the animal drawings. But these scribbles dated back to 16th and 17th centuries. Not as old as the drawings, of course, but by now a recognisable part of history. After what period of maturation, do you think, does graffiti assume a valuable status, perhaps even that of art?

We finally have our own cable connection (in our living room without furniture) so I will definitely come back soon to look at this link. I hope you are well.

Online magazines and news sites that ask for registration annoy me and I do NOT register. You should be able to see this one from your home computer as I did. I wonder though if they'll come after me for using this image even though I've credited it? My father in his last years living with us subscribed to LIFE and I had great pleasure from some of the issues but found it hard to keep up with all the reading as it came weekly. I remember the Hoffa name but have forgotten that he disappeared.

BB, I'm so pleased that you were finally able to comment again (did you get my email then?). I haven't seen any caves with paintings anywhere so you're one up on me. I know that Lascaux has long been closed to the public and that there is a replica, which I wrote about some years ago, it's one of the links in the "check here" list. That a guide especially would use the word barbare shows ignorance on his part! As for your last question, I have wondered the same. Not all grafitti is art, I think, but perhaps that's just a personal value judgment.

Susan, how good to have cable at last, even without furniture, heh! Now you will begin to feel a bit more at home and also connected with the world.

Now here comes a funny little comment. I saw these pictures as a girl and immediately wished for a Cro-Magnon action figure for my birthday. This doll accompanied me on many forays until I lost him somewhere in the woods one day. The power of art to inspire!

R, a Cro-Magnon action figure?! I've never heard of that one, sure doesn't sound like a typical little girl's doll. I wasn't much for dolls either preferring art supplies and books.

Those paintings are so sophisticated, aren't they. They don't seem "primitive" at all.

Cro Magnon? I am not sure if the paintings have been done by them or our cousins, homo sapiens neandertalis.

I've always thought that making pictures - and these could be as well sacrificial as graffiti - is one of the basic things what humans have been doing.

One picture at the Life-site has very definetely a cow in it, and they have not been domesticated yet. But must've been near people somehow. Hunted?

I also have thought that people have always had a pleasure in making pictures. Anyway, it has longer history than written language.

Psychology is long time been especially on it's human development faction about the battle between language first/image first. Maybe we should look closer how children develop in this respect?

Hattie, absolutely!

Ripsa, I'm just quoting the article re Cro-Magnons. I think Neanderthals had died out by then but there are always new discoveries made and history is revised so that now we know Neanderthals made art too. This is just one link I found quickly. Making art or images or pictographs are probably the first language, and isn't that what makes them humans? Our children also began to express themselves that way and I believe it's very important in their development, and I know you do too.

Ironically, it may have been that Ralph Morse's flash apparatus helped the paintings to deteriorate--bright light erodes pigments, if I'm not mistaken.

I'm glad you liked this: thanks so much for the link, Marja-Leena!

Black Peter, I'm sure they did as did the presence of humans, including one smoking a pipe. Many years of exposure has forced them to close it to the public and even then it's covered in white mold that is damaging the paintings. Sad.

Hi Charles, the pleasure is all mine, thanks again for posting this.

Marja-Leena, thank you, I'm crazy about cave paintings too and seeing even just this one is a great pleasure. I love them not just for the art, but for their immediacy, the way time collapses and we become stand next to the artists who feel very familiar.

I think it was this very grotto, which I couple of years ago saw a color-print book. It was yet in English. The images on the walls are stupendously high quality.

We were having the book as a loan from our friend and we were just gloating over it. The Friench government decided to keep the grotto closed after that, because air would make the images to diasappear easy.

I don't remember at all the name of the book, but it has been published, I've held the book on my lap. A big picture book.

The grotto is very large and about in the middle of it, they found tracks of old fire-place of a sort, made of rock, and there was a hole on the top of it, where the smoke went out.

The scientists thought that it had been maybe some kinda sacrificial site, but it would be of course impossible to say what for.

Marja.Leena, now that you mentioned it, I remembered the found. It was and is a true sensation, as big as decoding the Neanrderthal DNA.

Beth, yes, the feeling of connection with these artist of thousands of years ago is powerful and exciting.

Ripsa, I'd love to see that book. A few years ago I saw one about the Chauvet caves, also in France and know how exciting it is to see those wonderful art works. We're lucky that so much is now online.

Thanks for this great post. The info I have gained from your blog is truly encouraging

These are really beautiful. I saw some actual cave paintings many years ago in France, not those, of course, since the Lascaux Caves were closed. It was a wonderful experience.

Amazing and mystical. Thanks for posting, Marja-leena.

Thanks, Hrvatska.

Anne, how wonderful that you've see some actual cave paintings in France - was it Chauvet? I'm a little envious.

Elaine, thanks for visiting.